Carefully Taught

“You’ve got to be carefully taught” is a line from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical South Pacific. The sense of this satirical song is that prejudice is not natural but learned. The first verse spells it out:

“You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

This song sprang up out of my memory the other day when I read an article at The Globe and Mail that focuses on how people react to unclothed males. The well-written article, from a female perspective, cites recent examples from advertising and the movies, and includes supporting material from interviews, studies, and personal experience. The main point of the article is that scenes of male nudity, though more prevalent than before, still tend to be brief when compared to the “long, lingering frame” in which female nudity continues to be placed by the male gaze. The author speculates “whether the next generation will welcome the chance to have their desires tickled or see male nudity in ads as boring reverse sexism.”

What gave me pause was a secondary point that the author makes: “The nude male body is usually the stuff of comedy.” I’m not disagreeing, because she’s probably exactly right in making that sentence a simple statement of fact (at least regarding mainstream advertising, television, and film). But here’s the line from the article that brought the “carefully taught” song to mind: “A quick glimpse of the swinging, silly penis can be comic gold, too.”

What do we teach ourselves with “the swinging, silly penis”? The author lists contemporary comedians and films that give plenty of grist for silliness, but to me these contexts for silliness are less interesting because they’ve come to be what’s expected, what’s played for a cheap laugh. Laughter may help familiarity with nudity and body acceptance (say, Puppetry of the Penis) but I think that too often it’s demeaning and disrespectful. The implication seems to be that any swinging, at all, would be “silly.” What contexts can there be, in contrast, for penises that are “gracefully swinging,” or “vigorously swinging,” or just plain “swinging”? What man would want to live his life with the idea that if your penis is swinging because you are walking naked from the bedroom to the kitchen, or running clothes-free down the cross-country trail, that this is somehow silly in and of itself? What a massive write-off of the contextual complexities of human behavior.

What this comes down to is the mostly outdated contrast between the motionless nude and the moving naked. The hoary old supposition was that the noble (and static) nude could be pure and artistic, while the merely naked (in motion but hampered, perhaps, by trying to cover up while moving) was vulnerable and thus either comic or obscene. It’s past time to move beyond that dichotomy, and more and more people have indeed “grown up” and abandoned it. The fact is: bodies in motion swing and wiggle, and that’s because we have flesh on our bones. We are of the flesh, we are animate, we are quick, we are alive – so we should celebrate! Naturism helps us do exactly that. Naturism, in providing a huge range of activities and contexts in which our naked selves can swing freely, leads us to a more complete and intuitive understanding of the relationships among movement, perception, feeling, thought, and expression.

In fact this movement of ourselves out beyond what we can immediately control is arguably one of the most basic – because one of the most visceral – ways in which we understand consequences of our existence. These organs that swing–penises, breasts–, that can be pulled at for an array of desires; these organs that emit the fluids that produce and sustain life beyond the self: they embody an essential, moving aspect of our humanity, and when we walk around all bound and trussed we miss that corporeal cognizance of consequence. We miss the subtleties of breeze, moisture, dust, and sunshine that help us more accurately comprehend our surroundings and interpret our place in them.

For naturists, nudity is a fulfillment of freedom and a plenitude of potential. Since government, religion, and the media already “teach”–with few exceptions–prejudices against nudity, the solution is to turn “carefully taught” on its head. We naturists must carry on teaching contexts in which vital, active, body-positive nudity can have everything to do with fun and games, body acceptance, and the celebration of being alive–but with less silliness, and much more grace, athletic prowess, and artistic beauty.

2 thoughts on “Carefully Taught

  1. Yeah but… Just kidding! What a delight to stop by here and find not just the excellent article I expected to see, but also \”The Naked Truth About Bare Male Flesh\” from the Globe!Is's always a pleasure (and surprise) to find something in the mainstream press which actually attempts and succeeds at presenting a thoughtful discussion about a subject as easily exploited as nudity.What I especially appreciate is the subtle way you brought us from a relatively innocuous remark about a 'swinging, silly penis' into and through an exploration of human behavior and perceptions. Nice job!As an aside, my take on the 'silliness' of a wobbly wienie is that, in such a condition, it presents the least threatening appearance, essentially impotent, thereby causing a (conscious or not)feeling of relief in women and calming to the always-fragile male ego. If we can laugh at something, it can't be all that dangerous. A little pop-psych there, no charge!Very enjoyable and thought-provoking; keep cranking this stuff out!

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  2. Thanks! I think you're right about the \”least threatening appearance.\” That explains quite a lot, doesn't it? Naturism cannot eliminate people's insecurities, but it sure can help alleviate them.

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